I woke up for work yesterday to the news that a member of my extended family had passed away suddenly in the early hours of the morning. Far disparate from the long battle with illness, sudden death has a curious effect on those who encounter it: not only is the situation surreal, but it subtly disengages you from your routine. I started going through the morning motions, but stopped immediately and got back into bed. When I eventually went into work, I only managed to stay for three hours. After taking care of all pressing issues, I went to the Galleria and walked around with my headphones on. I bought two pairs of earrings and a new umbrella. I kept running into an old man who seemed slightly unhinged who complimented my hat over and over again. When I got back to my apartment, I climbed back into bed and slept some more.
The loss was personal, as we are relatives, but it wasn't so personal that I could claim it as my own. There are people hurting more than I am. There are other who need comfort more than me. So I forced myself to find a distraction. I watched a tiny open mic that was half comedy and half poetry. Uncharacteristically, I felt closer to the comedy half of things. I laughed so loudly that everyone stared at me. One of the comics asked if I was a comic, and I almost lied and said yes. Laughter was the opposite of how my day had started, but it righted the ship. After the show, I went out for drinks with a few stragglers and had a lively discussion that kept us all up into the wee hours. The evening was glorious and unexpected. I collapse into bed after the cab home, happily this time.
A friend told me that people should pay me to go to see comedy because of how clear it is that I'm enjoying myself. It was an odd, but satisfying, thing to hear about myself. My laugh has been made fun of on more than one occasion--I have a full-force cackle that will incriminate me for better or worse in any crowd-- and I am severely critical of comedy as a genre (shock value humor--meh; "classic" comedy films--mehhh; comedians in general--less schtick plz), but I do love to laugh. In my weakened state, it's entirely possible everything landed as funny because anything would've seemed funny. Regardless, I'm grateful for the gift of laughter at the end of a tough day. Sometimes, the world is bad. But it can also be hilarious.
I had a conversation with a far-flung friend recently where we lamented being twenty-somethings. A compelling conversation, I know, but just walk with me here for a minute. After the "I hate my boring job" gripes and the "there's not enough time to make art" train of thought, we came back around to a happy place. "Just sleep less," he said. "You have a voice that needs to be heard." I can't begin to explain how much I need our talk to end that way.
In the past few weeks, my writing here has been overwhelmingly negative. I won't apologize for that so much as offer a bit of background. When I go a long time without a serious outpouring of internal monologue, things can get a bit overwrought. But, in service of being truthful, my life is fantastic right now. My job may be a bit mind-numbing, but it gives me eight hours of auto-pilot where I can be chasing down ideas for the next poem, essay, or painting, so that when i get home after work, I am primed and ready to produce. I have a cozy apartment where there is more than enough space for all of my projects. I have a partner in crime whom I can bounce drafts off of at all hours. My best friend lives a ten minute bus ride away. I paint and write every evening until I fall into bed. It is glorious to be so tired from so many good things.
I'm pretty sure the reason that I worked shitty customer service jobs for so long is the toll it would take on my body. Even if I hated the workplace I was in, it was easy to feel like I'd actually accomplished something at the end of a shift because I could feel the strain in my body. I would be sore from standing at a register, taking Christmas ornaments for eight hours. My feet would ache due to the fact that I'd been running entrees non-stop through dinner service. There were measurable, physical responses to how I'd spent my time in a given day. While the exhaustion was intellectually satisfying, it was also defeating my ability to create. How can a person come home from working a job that requires you to be on your feet and on the move, only to expend more physical and mental energy on what actually matters? When I worked this more physically demanding jobs, I was terrible at staying awake an hour past arriving home for the night, and an hour is not nearly enough time to make real progress on a creative progress.
Trading my standing shifts for a cubicle and endlessly ringing phone has been a rocky transition. I get restless staring at computer screen for eight straight hours. But there are serious benefits to work that does not drain finite energy reserves. I do not have to be creative at work. I have to be personable and repetitive. My time on the phone is essentially scripted. I write emails on auto-pilot. I know what is expected of me, and I accomplish my daily to-do lists. It is a very simple existence. Initially, this black and white environment had me thrashing around like a shark in the shallow. I felt like I couldn't breathe. Did they really think I was enjoying my work? But art crept in around the edges of the day. Writing on my luxurious hour-long lunches (having designated break time is still something I am giddy about); reading submissions for Side B in between answering email inqueries; writing to far-flung friends when the phones are silent. I found so many small moments in my day where it was not only okay to do what I wanted to, but encouraged, that I still consistently feel like I'm getting away with something when I get up to take a stroll around the office.
Since changing workplaces (and moving to Somerville in general), I've had a lot more brain space to accomplish all the things I've planned out for years and never been able to find the structure in my day to facilitate. I have a routine, and it is glorious. I sleep less, and it doesn't affect my job performance; in fact, being tired enforces my auto-pilot at work. The less I think about what is going on, the easier it is to lose myself in the repetition of my job, and then before I know it, it's five o'clock and I'm on my way back up the hill to my apartment. I've put together a manuscript, painted a series to show publicly next month, built a soon-to-launch personal website, started writing non-fiction again. Even though I spend more hours per day at my job, I feel like I have more time to do what I want.
There's an episode of Wilfred where (SPOILER ALERT) everyone's favorite Australian man in a dog suit loses his sense of smell, thus losing his sense of purpose. At my minimum wage jobs, I had lost my sense of smell. (I've not been unemployed since I was 14.) I worked so much, and so consistently, alongside my actual life, that it became easiest to hide behind my exhaustion in lieu of making the strides towards things I actually wanted to achieve. Sure, I finished college a semester early while working full time, but I also didn't try nearly as hard as I could have. I may have muddled through last years tumultuous time in Providence, but I was angry and lonely all the time; I did very little writing and almost no painting, even though I had more free time than I knew what to do with. I panicked when I started my current job because it was so unlike anything I've ever done for work before, but it really has been the best thing for me. My nose is back. I can sniff out opportunities to push myself a little further along like a motherfucker; I am surefooted, burning the midnight oil, experiencing more excitement and success than I knew I was allowed to. The tedium is glorious for all the hours it affords me to do exactly what it is I love, and do it full force.
Some days, I envy the kind of people who are born, go to school, raise a family, grow old and die all in the same metro area. I used to think I'd be one of these people. My family is from a tiny one traffic light town a stone's throw from Manhattan. When you start out that close to what many people claim is the greatest city in the world, it doesn't seem like much improvement could be made to your location. I came of age on NJ Transit: every weekend of early high school meant days-long sleepovers with my best friend at her family's place in Weehawken and PATH trips from Hoboken to Lower Manhattan; later, another friend and I would stash his car in the lot behind an Asian restuarant in Fort Lee and walk across the GWB, or take the tiny privately run buses from one side of the river to the other.
When I was a teenager, the world was a vast, uncharted place that I could do just fine without. I had my future laid out right in front of me. I want to go to Cooper Union, live in Alphabet City, take the bus home to visit my little brother with spoils from street fairs and flea markets on alternating weekends. All of my closest friends planned to move to New York after graduation. We spent nights in friend-of-friends apartment watching FLCL, using up endless rolls of film taking pictures of ourselves, playing a game called 'brackets' where we pitted pairs random nouns against each other head-to-head until we were only left with two options to defend. Analog versus digital. Britney versus Christina. Diesel versus unleaded. As the list narrowed, things became much more bizarre. Hair cuts versus spare tires. Whiskey versus toothpaste. The Lakers versus table salt. But never once did we pit New York against anything. There was no contest.
When applying to colleges, I went through several rounds of rigorous extracurricular art classes trying to get my portfolio up to snuff for the review process inherent to applying to straight-up art schools. Whenever a rep from one of the big schools came through, I would give them my work to look at, hoping to get early feedback and keep honing until I was unstoppable. I got accepted to several school based on these reviews my junior year of high school, but I wasn't ready to accept, because none of them were in Manhattan. (I apologize for the ill-disguised humblebrag.) But even though I didn't take any of the offers, it woke me up to the possibility of other cities. Baltimore. San Franciso. Boston. It had never occurred to me that there were other places I might want to cut my teeth.
My last year of high school, Meredith Lippman told me she would hunt me down and kill me if I ever stopped making art. She also told me to apply to Hampshire, a now-infamous nudge that resulted in me moving the middle of Western Massachusetts dairy farmland and finding the room I needed to breathe. Hampshire got me hooked on slam poetry, introducing me to poets from everywhere. I housed roughly half the people who came through for features on my living room couch. And barely any of them were from New York. They loved their cities as fiercely as I thought I loved Manhattan and defended them as such. When I cycled through Gotham on my way home for holiday breaks, I realized that some of the glow was gone. It didn't seem so special when compared to the way my new friends talked about Chicago or Denver or Madison or Portland or Vancouver.
While at Hampshire, I made near-weekly pilgrimages to Cambridge for readings at the Cantab. The magic of a single bar basement (that admittedly spells like rat piss) overtook any remaining love I had for New York and replaced it with a deep-seated fondness of the two-hour slog down I-90, the endless open mic, and the alley behind the bar where I have had more exquisite, hysterical, illicit moments than I dare to recount to the internet. Many more memorable nights than Manhattan had ponied up during our time together.
I moved into the living room of my sister's one bedroom Providence apartment for a summer between semesters and had more free time than I knew what to do with. I befriended a gang of singer-songwriters and spent my evenings hanging out windows of the 3rd floor at AS 220 with a cigarette, wandering the tiny downtown laughing loud enough to wake the dead. One of these new friends gave me knife when he heard where my apartment was. Another introduced me to the loop pedal. I had met the city with a severely broken heart and when I went back to my cow field the following fall, I was good as new. The city wasn't what I was used to--a bit unfinished, busted up and dneglected anywhere beyond the mall or College Hill--but that rough charm made me feel charming too. I hadn't even seen the change happen, but I was assertive, convinced of my worth. Where in Manhattan I had always defered to some near-stranger to tell me what I was worth, Providence taught me that your value as a person is only what you believe it to be. If you can sell yourself as a success story, anyone listening will nod their head in agreement.
With school winding down, the decision about where to lay down roots was present, but suddenly unanswerable. So many places had my heart. I stayed close to school for six months, unwilling to go back to any city at all. As a teenager, I'd been convinced rural living would be the end of me. But more and more, abandonning New England became the thing I feared. Manhattan was a foreign country. Rhinestone and neon and teeming with so much I could no longer call familiar. I had a friend nagging me to move back so we could get some tiny space in Brooklyn and "live the dream". After a lot of excuses, I finally just said no outright. It was bizarre to hear the words leave my mouth. I don't want to move to New York. I'd outgrown the fairytale.
I always took for granted that my twenties belonged to the fat glut of light across the river from my family's house. I spent so many years praying to the shine there. Make me special, make me interesting, make me one of your hum. I remember a morning when I woke up at 6 AM on the floor of a dorm at the New School and thought, yes, this, every single day--this! Certainly, I could've been happy there. But I also know how grounded I feel here, in Boston. And how affectionate I feel towards Providence, and Portsmouth, and Pittsburgh, and a handful of other underrated cities that all live in my heart. Manhattan is supposed to be the best, but for me, it hasn't be in contention for quite some time.
I am no good at this adulthood thing. It's like climbing a buttered rope hand over hand. First off, I have no upper body strength. And secondly, who the hell came up with buttering a climbing rope in the first place? I have the job, the apartment, the relationship, the closet full of daily costumes, the body full of shine, the food to fill a fridge and the pans to cook it in, the places to run away to when I fell broke down and suffocated. But no spark left at the end of the day. Why is that? After all the struggle of kicking my own ass through college, getting out into the big, imperfect world early and sinking my teeth into all that mess, I am still exactly where I was before. When do I get to exhale that deep sigh, look at myself in the mirror and say this is it?
When I'm handed a forty hour work week, I am grateful for what it affords me. But at what cost? Why does our country, our culture, hold wealth so high on the list of things to desire that rest and good company and creation suffer? I do not want to be rich. I have never wanted to be rich. I might even go so far as to say that I hate rich people because of how distant they are from their own humanity, but this is a broad generality and not targeted at people specifically so much as the symbology at play. Money means only what we let it mean. There are ways to live that cost less than how I choose to. I could move to another city where the rents are lower. I could go back to the kind of work that I feel in my body at the end of the day. Maybe I'm dissatisfied because the only thing I feel in my body about my job is the cloying presence of industrial fluorescent lighting and the migraines I get from looking at computer screen for eight hours a day.
I saw an article on the Atlantic's website the other day that said that office workers burn the same amount of calories as hunter-gatherers. How stunning. Which work is more essential?
A text message from a friend showed up during my mid-afternoon slump today, and I realized I haven't seen him in nearly two years. We live in different cities, met while I was on tour too many moons ago, but I still can't believe I've gone this long without hearing his voice. Our meeting was so essential to the way I ushered in the new phase of my life. This one sans the structure of college. But what seemed so whole and holy when it was just starting out has fallen into a new structure. I am now a slave to an alarm clock, a social schedule, the pressure to keep trotting out my writing for journals and magazines that will not have it. What kind of goals are these? It seems nearly impossible to have any kind of spontaneous day. Perhaps that is the cost of stability.
Or maybe I can shake myself out of this like a snow globe, let all of the pieces fall back down and rearrange themselves in a way that makes me smile. I don't want to cut anyone, or anything, from my life. I love my family, my friends, my city, making art (in whatever form it arrives). The world just feels so small and limited. It is time to start saving up to travel, to hatch an escape plan. I am so thankful for the fact that I can afford to survive. But I want to do more than live paycheck to paycheck for the rest of my days. I want the world to feel as big as I know it is, and for there to be places that seem impossible to reach so that I can drive myself hard enough to reach them.
When I finished school, my writing had never been published. I am already so far from that person. There is a new kind of adult I want to be, one who doesn't sacrifice hunger and wonder for the sake of satisfaction.
Summer is more than half over and there's been little occassion to breathe.
I have an office job now. It isn't the best situation on earth, but it also isn't the worst, and they've recently told me they're making me a full-time employee in the fall, which means my second raise since I started in April. What comes with salary? Finally beginning to chip away at my student loans, which have been languishing in deferment for the past year while I got my act together. I, by no means, regret this deferment. I am of the mind that working a minimum wage job for my first two years in the real world gave me a very concrete understanding of the bare minimum amount of money I need to be able to survive happily. Now that I make almost double what I was making only a few months ago, I appreciate the wiggle room more. I can afford to take a cab home some nights if I want. I can buy my less-flush friends drinks. I can go to a concert on a whim. All luxuries I may not have seen as such had I gotten a "real" job right out of college.
I've come across a lot (or at least what seems liek a lot) of commentary on a phenomenon commonly refered to as a quarter-life crisis. Up until this point, I'd only heard such bizarro terminology in a John Mayer song. (No, seriously, he has a lyric where he tries to justify a non-commital attitude by saying he might be having a quarter-life crisis.) But apparently this is a thing people my age are talking about. Let me just say right now that this concept is UTTER BULLSHIT. Dear twenty-somethings: you have yet to live; thusly, your life cannot be in crisis. Just because your parents have stopped paying your bills and sending you care packages and generally holding your hand through all possible hardships does not mean that your existence is awful or oppressive. It means that you are required to take responsibility. You know what's excellent about being our age? How simple it is to change direction. Don't like your job? Quit and start fresh. It's not like you have a decade invested. You can survive on less money than you think. Wait tables. You'll make a lot of money, feel no obligation to anybody you work for or with, and can leave at any time without ruffling anybody's feathers. Don't like your friends? There are a million new people waiting to be spoken to in all of the places you go on a daily basis. Don't like your hobbies? Stop participating in them, get new ones.
All of the problems discussed in these post-college crisis acrticles miss the point. It's not that our lives lack meaning. It's just that we are convinced that everything we do must be meaningful. So that we can tweet about, make a Facebook event, compose a Kickstarter to fund out dreams, tumbl-blog pictures of our awesome life where everyone is gorgeous and nonchalant and still so impossibly talented and way more interesting than anybody else that has ever existed. How boring have we become as a society that an exciting life is one that is defined by being able to boil down what we are most passionate about into 140 characters or less? Dear twenty-somethings: if you think your life is over already, you are the only one who sees it that way.
I'm tired of reading about college-educated young people who are apathetic about circumstances that others might find desirable. the problem is college. The problem is a culture of exceptionalism. You know those awesome jobs everyone promised you could get as long as you got your four year degree and worked an awful unpaid internship and busted your ass? They are not handed out with the diplomas. In the work world, you have to start at the bottom, build a skill set beyond writing papers synthesizing critical theories regarding your chosen field of study (be honest--did you really think this would be useful in any arena beyond academia?), and send out resumes whenever you see something that even remotely resembles your dream job.
Here are some true facts: working for a living sucks, being a person is too expensive, and emotional connectivity in our generation is becoming more and more impossible. Want a remedy? Me too. So does everyone. The best advice I can offer is this--if there's something about your life that is eating at you, change it now before that nagging feeling of defeat becomes the norm. If you want to make art, make time to make art. If you want to see friends, make time to see friends. There may be a finite number of hours in the week, but how many of those do you spend complaining about having a pretty-okay life?
I am more than guilty of ranting and raving about everything I wish could be different, if only I had the means to make change. But I do, and so do you.
Anyway. Speaking of twenty-somethings working hard at being awesome instead of griping about how the scholarship for getting stoned and writing poetry ran out after four years, I'm showing my paintings in public for the first time ever at this event, the official Booze Époque launch party on September 15th, as well as reading a bit of booze-themed poetry. If you're in the Somerville/Cambridge/Boston area, you can get on the guest list by donating $20 to the cause. Beyond that, there are exciting prizes for your support--at the $150 dollar level, you get one of ten 8"x10" panels I've been toiling over.
Here they are in the early stages. At the gallery, I'll also have several more small paintings for sale, as well as a few 18"x24" panels. I am beyond excited to have people see my art somewhere other than at my apartment, where typically a canvas sits on my easel for upwards of six months without much changing. September 15th in Central Square, Cambridge. Save the date, donate twenty dollars, drink delicious boutique cocktails with locally-sourced ingredients, and see a bunch of music and poetry performed. Sounds like a perfect Saturday to me. I'd love to see you there. So I can hug you and remind you that there is no such thing as having an easy time all the time.
The world has been a wily place lately, but as the dust settles, I can share a string of fabulous news.
Last week's poetry day was a massive success. I've already been invited back to do another next year during poetry month. The kids asked some tough questions, which I wasn't properly expecting, but I think we carried off the discussions well and got them to think about poems in a very different light. A lot of the talking after our presentations centered around music--how songs are the way poetry lives in our world and touches us on a daily basis. This obviously led to discussions of various hip hop artists and corresponding poets that might help bridge the gap for a music appreciator who's curious about where poems fit into their life. Two girls stayed after one of the sessions to grill me about what I do to keep from deleting my first drafts and how I keep from getting discouraged when sending out submissions. I lauded the power of the page break when making revisions (and using long-hand as a stand-by, since you can't delete when it's paper and ink), as well as sites like Duotrope, which are invaluable when it comes to finding out where your work might fit and keeping track of submissions.
All said and done, I surprised myself with how well I managed a day of teaching. I often forget that all my performance experience translates to other kinds of speaking engagements. Even my interviews have gotten infinitely better. Speaking of which, I interviewed for a new job on Wednesday. A real one this time. It's too early to say for sure, but according to some insider info from my office spies, I did fabulously and have nothing to worry about. Cheers to an impending change of industry!
Finally, I found an apartment. At long last, I'm moving to Somerville on May 1st. We found a cozy two-bedroom with massive closets and plenty of space for our epic collection of books. Less than three weeks until the big day. I've been shopping for the perfect dishes all morning and daydreaming about long evenings painting and writing in our workroom. Jamie showed me an excellently curated furniture store just down the block from where we'll be moving, and knowing it's there is only adding to my frenzy over rattan lampshades and red lacquer bookcases and finding the perfect record player and a host of gems I've got coming my way from my uncle's storage unit that he needs help emptying.
There is nothing more exciting that an avalanche of positive change. Except keeping up with writing a poem a day for National Poetry Month, and possibly winning Madonna tickets from Spotify...
The way things unravel never ceases to amaze me, but the way things come together is even more astonishing. I got a rejection letter today and was not devastated. My skin has gotten so thick about writing--four years ago, not even a handful of people had even seen my poems. I just talked my sister's ear off about Blind Huber and themed manuscripts (I'm working on two). I have yet to even complain about a 30/30 poem; I just wake up at 8 AM every day and write one.
Which reminds me--it's National Poetry Month. All of my friends are posting their work and tagging me in notes on the good book. Well, not all of them. The brave ones. The disciplined ones. The crazy ones. (Those words tend to be interchangeable when it comes to the people I love.) And then there's this thing happening in one of my adopted cities this summer that drawing closer every day. You should be as excited about it as we are. The National Poetry Slam is coming to Boston! I've known about this for awhile, but shit just got real the other day. April Ranger put together a great show of music and comedy that led up to a slam grudge match between Boston and New York City. Melissa gave me this postcard:
...in which the NPS logo is both the moon AND the poetry Bat Signal. She's also curating a tumblr for the event, which is currently chock-full of performance poem videos worth watching.
To top all this word-love off, I have a show tomorrow night in Portland, ME with Sam and Mckendy. I haven't shared a stage with them in months. I anticipate sheningans of a tall order. Or, at least we'll perform some poems and yell "Get it in!" and "Only off jumps!" at one another for a good chunk of the evening. If you're going to be in the area, come give and receive hugs. I am very good at those.
In closing, this song makes me really really really happy.
Things have been happening. Or. I am caught in the perfect storm of my own making. Since returning home from tour, I've been on a steady diet of highway driving, Boston, New Jersey, motivational speech, and wearing heels out to spite the snow. It's been working well.
Last Saturday night, I was in Montclair, NJ with my little sister, Button, and a few friends to see Girl Talk's final installment of the All Day tour. We danced for two straight hours and, man, was it a gorgeous evening. I realized that the amount of dancing in my life is directly proportionate to my resting happiness rate (RHR, to speak in faux-medical terminology). Back in the fall, I went dancing at least once a week, resulting in a very high RHR, glowy skin, sore-but-content leg muscles, and the envy of all my dance-inclined friends. However, since the onset of the snowpocalypse, dance nights seem not only impractical, but downright silly to attend. Who wants to booty shake in rubber boots? Certainly not me. Cambridge, my home base for most dancing endeavors, is jagged with snow drifts and rife with icy patches of sidewalk. The last thing I need to finish out the winter with is a sprained ankle. Cos the only thing harder than crutches is crutches in the New England winter when you live in a third story walk-up. So, until spring, I'll have to get my dancing fix where I can. The Wellmont wasn't a bad spot for it, in spite of the Bieber squad (in their neon atrocity) gumming up the bathrooms and somehow managing to drink with X's on the back of their hands. A word of advice to the high school set: your sweat band does not make you cool, no does your homemade Girl Talk t-shirt with glaring grammar errors. Stay home and study hard! Your little brains clearly need it. Leave the partying to those of us who've earned the right after a hellish work week. When I was your age, I was at home watching the Lizzie McGuire movie and...well, maybe I should cut them some slack.
In other news, tour has legitimized my writing and performing life to my family in a way that chapbooks had failed to and now I'm getting all kinds of odd requests. My favorite one comes with a bit of backstory. My father's younger sister Casey has always been adamant about not getting married. She's had a handful of serious boyfriends that made into inside the fortress of family gatherings, but none of them ever stuck more than a handful of years. However, I am proud to announce that she's found the man she's going to marry (fanfare and all that jazz). Which means I've been invited to me first wedding. My grandmother is practically spamming all of our email inboxes with questions about ceremony and reception details, etc. My favorite inquiry thus far has been along the lines of, "Will you be bringing an escort?" The bride has been wisely absent from all of this insanity, probably off somewhere riding horse, practicing law, or actually living her life. The one interjection she did make my way is that she'd like me to read at the wedding. I'm not sure if that means Bible passages or what, but I am flattered to be the first name she thought of. Look! My first non-poetry gig gotten by being a poet! Now all I need is a desk job that doesn't frown on visible tattoos. Go, liberal arts degree, go!
In closing, my car started last night on the first try. I take this as a surefire sign of spring. And George Watsky made a new video. Kid's now been a Def Jam poet, a guest on the Ellen show and viral video phenom. Show him some love.
I wouldn't exactly call myself a Scrooge, but this December has been a rough one. Tour's been creeping up in a semi-insidious way (read about the shows so far here), I've spent more time on the road to various cities or just plain in Boston than I have in my own apartment, and when I do remain stationary, work has been sapping me of my lifeblood. Being that it is my very first retail Christmas, a lot is off-kilter, which mostly means my stress levels are much higher than they should be.
In addition to my regular schedule, the past few weeks I've picked up an extra shift for the cash, meaning I work six days a week instead of the usual five. And five out of those six shifts have been closing shifts. On my day off, I've had shows or some massive errand that takes far too much energy. I have not written much of anything since finishing my undergraduate degree a few weeks ago. I haven't even properly celebrated that milestone. (Cass and I did go out for a beer with our men that night, which counts to a certain extent, but I am more than a little itchy for an epic night of dancing to sweat away all those lingering college woes.) In all, I've been a bit divorced from the whole Christmas spirit this year, quietly acquiring my gifts and stashing them in a Rubbermaid box in the hall closet, avoiding the fact that I get one day off from my life as a cash register jockey/glorified stock girl for family during a time when I am used to at least a week of non-stop family shenanigans. It's hard. The only time I've felt the proper amount of holiday cheer is when it's been snowing. And thus far, at least in my little corner of the world, that's only happened when I've been in Beantown.
Kait and I met up in Jamaica Plain over a week ago for an epic feast and a few cocktails at Canary Square on Tuesday. Now, most people who know me know I am a huge proponent of the mid-week weekend. (Maybe it's because I work for the entire real one, but I'll call that beside the point.) I am rather fond of treating Tuesday nights like Friday nights. So a whiskey sour with a sisterly gabfest and a heaping helping of food is just my speed for such an evening. Our meal was full of cheese and laughter. The burger we had killed me with delicious. The french fries were epic. The beef jerky popcorn was odd, but I ate plenty. And I gave a chapbook to our waitress. Afterwards, I took her through the freezing cold to Deep Ellum in Allston to be the first of our family to meet my man. It was snowing. And freezing. The cold was like magic. We all did a lot of wild gesticulating and emphatic explaining ourselves, had great drinks and a great time. The night rounded out with me singing along to Ryan Adams as we ventured out into the flurry again for the night.
And then there was the snow in Somerville the other day. I ran away to the Bean again (and Charlie's Kitchen in Harvard Square) after a particularly rough Sunday shift (open to close during Consumer Christmas is much more brutal for those working it than I'd been mentally prepared for that day) and spent the night, waking to a morning full of the white stuff. I walked to Trina's Starlight Lounge for brunch the next noon and gleefully let the cold bite my fingers. Snow caught in my eyelashes, it finally felt like Christmas. We had what can only be inadequately described as a homemade pop tart, followed by the works, all washed down with lots of coffee. I kept straining to see the snow out the frosted window. And when I walked back to my car and drove home to NoHo for work, I was so disappointed that the snow globe effect didn't reach past Worcester. The city of my home address has yet to get more than a dusting, and for that matter, I've yet to be out in the snow in my current hometown.
I spent Wednesday watching the white stuff accumulate on my car while I baked my Grandma's Christmas butter cookies in a kitchen that isn't mine. My show in Portland got canceled because of the weather, so I had a bedroom Bloc 11 sandwich picnic and fell asleep watching Die Hard instead of performing.
Anyway, I guess the point of all this rambling is to say that I haven't exactly felt connected to the time of year. Until last night. Work was a frenzied mess, everyone in town out and shopping for last minute gifts. I left my wrapping paper in the employee closet, I've yet to pack, and I was kept up half the night by yelling from the thirsty Thursday bar crowd. However. Even though I'm not in Boston or its outliers, and even though I'm not nearly prepared for the big day tomorrow, I could hardly sleep last night for the excitement of stockings and ornaments and all of my family jammed into my gram's living room. So what if that means I'll have to brave midnight mass in a mohawk. This holiday season has been rough for me and for a lot of my friends, but it showed me that we all work hard, play hard, and have huge hearts. I wish it was possible for me to be with everyone I consider family tomorrow--the friends scattered across New England and the Midwest, I toast you! Here's to us and our crazy year!
Speaking of hearts, Jericha's been making me some goodies lately. My birthday present sheds just the right amount of nighttime light when I'm fumbling through the dark for a glass of water, and my Christmas gift took my breath away in our Christmas-lit kitchen.
The back of the necklace says, "home is where the heart is, for the heart is a house you can hold in your hands." Amen.
In closing, I think Dickensian Kermit says it best.
Happy Holidays everyone, and a Merry Christmas if that's how you're spending tomorrow. If not, go make a snow angel at Harvard for me.
Last Saturday I made a pilgrimage to the Boston outpost of the House of Blues to see Grinderman. Now, I will admit to being poorly acquainted with him up to this point in my life--Button and I have surely listening to plenty of the Bad Seeds while galavanting in our high school days, but fuck if I know which albums or how long ago that was--so I had to do the pretend-you-know-all-the-things-the-cool-kids-do dance for most of the evening.
But mostly, I spent the night mesmerized. I'm sure I've mentioned in the past that the physical sensation of live music makes me happier than most things in the world. Rock music especially. The vibrations in the air move my blood faster or something. The bass in my chest sounds like "home" more than the word itself. And this particular instance of live music, I could not tear my eyes away. Some people are just built to carry off a magical kind of stage presence, a conviction I've come to from my years in poetry. But it was at shows that this idea first entered my mind. Performance, though a construct, is something that at its core must be instinctual. To be seen, to see yourself being seen, and to then feed off that energy and use it to create an experience that would not have been possible otherwise is astonishing when properly executed. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that Mr. Cave was made for the stage, and I am glad to have witnessed him.
Take a look for yourself:
In my internet travels this morning, I stumbled across this blog post, chock full of pictures of the man, mostly in his younger days. This photo in particular made me very happy:
I have been cleaning my room for what feels like (and is probably close to) the past three weeks, and it looks like a more color-intensive version of the same. Books and papers everywhere, clothes falling into coffee cups, typewriters strung with paper and stories half-typed. I've cleared away the dishes, but the mess does not get much smaller for all my trying. I suppose this is the way some of us will always live. It's like the mess in my head's just overflowed in the real world. Generally, I've decided to avoid it, choosing instead to melt Rachmaninoff records all morning to make new wall art. If Nick can survive the clutter, so can I.
And then there's this, which just makes the day that much better.
The other night at dinner with the family, I made some comment regarding the fact that novelty of drinking in public had still not worn off. My cousin kindly reminded me of its illegality. I told him I did not care.
Line breaks. Dechlorinated water. Fish food. Antique clocks for the new New Jersey kitchen. Shoplifting only from corporate stores. Leopard print. Loving my legs as long as they continue to be good to me. Taking naps. Not sleeping for three or more days. BEER. Playboy and pretzel sticks and tattoo placement. There is the omnipresent possibility of liquor for lunch now--how very odd a prospect. I had only four drinks at the bar last night, but I will venture a guess that they were all four much stronger than they seemed. The only way to know what force there is that may knock you on your ass when you try to stand is to drink everything straight. But I let myself get a little more than silly. A little more than sloppy. Everyone kept saying I had license to, which I did. However, this new club I've joined is an interesting one. I do not feel any different. Birthdays have never changed much for me. Yesterday, I bought a phone charger, had beers at the mall, performed a poem, was referred to by many near and dears as the "belle of the ball" and, for certain, it made me smile. I also told several people I love very much how happy I am for our friendship. They may attribute these revelations to my level of drunk. However, I am not in the habit of saying things I do not mean, drunk or otherwise. If I gushed at you last night about how awesome you are, I meant it with all of my heart, and I would mean it sober too. Forgive me my loud mouth and stumbling. Family are the people for whom unconditional love is not something that is ever discussed, but simply present. Cambridge will always be Thanksgiving, every single Wednesday. And for family dinner with words where the food should be, I suppose it makes sense I was cranberry saucy and dressed as tart as I'm sure I must've tasted.
"Do you hear that Grössby? That's the sound of summer ending."
1. I haven't been here, really been present, in awhile. All of my avenues of self-reflection have been silent, and I feel that silence in a way that is terrifying. My journals go unwritten in, poems (until very recently) get brainstormed and lost to some dark corner of the forgetful half of my brain. And this poor, poor blog looks like a ghost town. For all the internet knows, I am bored and have nothing to say. The truth is, I am overwhelmed and have absolutely everything to talk about. There is just too much of it to wade through. But I'm going to try.
2. Regret seems to be the buzzword of the summer. Which sucks, considering I am that asshat who says things like, "Pssh, who regrets anything? I am always proud of everything I do." Which is not an outright lie. In the case of the past few months, I know that my doubts come from how I've spent my time. Too much whiskey (if that's possible), not enough writing. Bottom line, I'm feeling the pressure when it come to turning in a "completed" novel come December. I am well known for taking on projects bigger than the moon and pulling them off at the last possible moment, but this one seems bigger, Jupiter sized. I speak in lines from other people's poems lately, work at least six days a week, and have not sat down and finished a book since early July. I am worried about getting lost in all different kinds of shuffles. On bad days, it feels as though I already have. People are rearranging as friends leave for school again, while other return for the same reason. I know I am not standing still, but there is stasis in my bones now, where before there was entropy. I need to feel like I am moving forward. Some days I wish I was a runner, a real one, so that I could at least move myself physically out of this space.
3. I am moving out of this apartment in about a week, which is a loss of both the treehouse and my roommate. I'll be moving downtown to be closer to work, and in that way it is both exciting and practical. In another, it is completely disorienting. I cannot imagine how to make it less so, because as soon asI get settled again, I will be uprooting myself. At work today, I spent the majority of my time doing mindless organizational tasks and thinking hard about all of the things that are wrapped up in moving back to New York. Yes, I said it. I am moving back to New York. Or Jersey. City-side living. I kept having visions of goldfish and cooking dinner for my father and late night painting sessions with Maggie. I know it will be good, as well as necessary. I need to give myself permission to be excited about this. Everyone is talking about relocating to Boston post graduation, and it feels like last summer all over again, a party I am vaguely invited to but have too many reasons not to attend. I know they are all good reasons, but it's still awful to know that all of my friends will be living somewhere I am not. I suppose there are always the Chinatown buses.
4. In spite of all the gray weather and beige headspace, there is silver lining to this day. I gave a few of my chapbooks to a coworker, something I have never done before, and she came in today raving about my writing, telling me she had passed the books on to her friends. I wanted to hug her, but it seemed a somewhat inappropriate act, considering that we were standing in the middle of racks of American Apparel and she and I have never so much as gotten coffee outside of work. But still, the hug bubbled up, and stifling it almost hurt me physically.
5. Also, there was that thing that happened a few weeks ago in St. Paul. Lots of poems. Lots of crazy times. I am still trying to process all of it. The poetic essay is helping a bit, but mostly I just feel lost when looking for meaning in a hotel full of stranger who all seemed to know my name, and if not that, at least my face.
Sammy T and Mike McGee listening intently, probably to that story about Grace Jones and the bicentennial.
My new nickname is Missouri, and my chest lets me breathe easier after a weekend of real talk and quite a bit of honesty. Sam rescued me from the boonies so that I could get my head on straight before leaving for nationals. We did lots of silly activities, including (but not limited to) poetry readings, basement discussions about cream of salad soup, consumption of cheesecake without plates, Buffalo Exchange dressing room fashion shows, and late night long walks for conversations that just can't happen in daylight.
Incidentally, if I ever get knuckle tattoos, my fingers will spell out "REAL TALK". The past week has been stressful--lots of packing, practice, running around like a headless chicken attempting to fly, etc. However, having a place I can run away to in the midst of all of this insanity has been invaluable. Thank you to the Poets' Asylum reading for welcoming me back after several years away, and to all who laughed, cried, and carried on with Sam and I. I am now reminded of how much fun this living thing can be, and that was exactly what I needed.
To awkwardly quote one of my teammates, you are the most of what I know of God, and most of you don't even believe in him.
P.S. Expect to see some updates about tour when I get back from St. Paul. Sam and I have been scheming. There is a press packet and a Facebook page now. Get at me if you have an East Coast arts venue that would want to hear from us during January, or a living room or garage or kitchen we could commandeer for an evening. The show we are planning will rock your socks so hard, they'll be laundered, starched and folded by the time you get them back. Just sayin'.
This weekend was the closest thing to a spiritual retreat I've taken in a long time. Boston, you got my head on right, and I thank you. I'll write about it once the pictures are uploaded. But in the meantime, the weekend had a dank soundtrack. The most instrumental part of restoring my mental health (besides the shoulders to cry on and poets of all stripes) was the new Big Boi album. If you haven't heard it, I am concerned for your health.
The following is today's anthem. Turn your speakers all the way up.
How is it that July is colder than June? I fell asleep in long sleeves and pants last night, under a comforter no less. I snuggled with a cat. July is not allowed to allow this. I have been writing letters on the backs of "damaged item" tags while working the dressing rooms. They aren't meant for envelopes. They are letters to future poems I know will get written eventually , love letters that say, "I know you are awesome a few weeks from now." I don't have quite the heart to sit down and make these poems (or stories, or chapters of my novel) yet. I am buried in rain. No one ever knocks on the front door, they just walk into my apartment, or yell, "Helloooo?!" in a very confused voice, as if they are coming over unannounced. As of yet, no one has actually come over unannounced. We leave for Minnesota in about a week. I leave for Boston tomorrow night after work. I want lots of vacations, breaks from all of this tornado warning. There was thunder so loud two days ago that I screamed and dropped my phone. The sky turned muddy water. There was no one in the house with me to hear it. Just like there is no food here to eat. A little boy came up to me today and the sidewalk sale and his sister stood in front of him and said, "He has something to tell you." But he just stood behind her and shook his head, tucking his chin into his neck and wouldn't say anything. And then she blurted out, "He really likes your hair." And he nodded, and looked embarrassed. And she looked at me and smiled, said, "Look, she's blushing," and they both laughed and walked away. It was a happy laugh though, much better than the we-only-complimented-you-to-see-the-look-on-your-face-afterwards kind of smile. Lately there are so many things to think about and so little time to do any of the thinking. I cut my hair off again to get closer to the thinking, to let myself know I was still brave enough. I don't feel as brave as I used to when the wind was this close to my scalp. Maybe the razor loses a little bit of its magic every time. I sing a lot of David Bowie to myself when the car radio should be playing. I've taken up praying in French again.
+ I am writing so many poems that I am overwhelmed with pride to read on stage. When people come up to me after an open mic, be they friends or strangers, I can take the compliment gracefully and start a conversation. Not so ugly duckling anymore. More of a goofy, blinking owl trying to turn my head all the way around so that I can see absolutely everything, hooting and hollering whenever there are words to be shout at and with. I am more than okay with that.
+ C Rudz told me last night that I have a delightfully unique laugh, and to never lose it.
+ C Rudz and April Ranger are going on a tour of the West Coast, bringing their sucker punch sunshine to the Sunshine State (no, not Florida) and its neighbors. If you can catch a show, you must. They will melt your faces with their talent and overwhelming goodness.
+ Speaking of face melting, Karen Finneyfrock featured at the Cantab last night. Not only is she a phenomenal poet and a charming lady, she will sell you socks. I kid you not. Ask her about it, cos she'll be in New England for a minute on tour.
+ I haven't even gotten to St. Paul and I'm already thinking about NPS 2011, which is coming to Boston. I am absolutely thrilled by this. NorthBEAST advantage? I think, yes. J*me quoted Mark Twain on the mic last night--"In New York they ask 'how much money does he have?' In Philadelphia, they ask, 'who were his parents?' In Boston they ask, 'how much does he know?'" I like to think the bit about Boston holds true. Regardless, that week of August will be nuts.
+ All my happies today are poetry related. I guess it makes sense, being that it's National Poetry Month.
1. I'm ill (not sick, says Weezy), sinus pressure, no-sleep-til-Brooklyn ill. I forget why I hate campus Januaries, and now it's all coming back to me with a surge of phlegm and a few too many cartoon sneezes. Maybe I'd feel better if I grew my hair out a bit and died it brown again?
no, that can't be right...
However, I have been making the most of things in spite of this minor speed bump. Exhibit A:
note the importance of wearing a particularly girly hair clip into battle
On last week's Providence visit (this is becoming an almost-regular occurrence), Kait and I went out for a night of substance-free fun (read: nostalgic reclamation of childhood followed by hot cocoa with schnapps and heaping helping of General Hospital) and ended up at an elementary school-turned-arcade that boasted indoor paintball and airsoft, along with a convoluted laser tag course that had my legs sore for too many days afterwards. We lost three rounds of laser tag to a group of fifteen-year-olds who had been there every night that week, played as many rounds of House of the Dead as we could justify, traded in our skee ball tickets for monkey tattoos that didn't stay on for more than a half hour, and were generally pleasantly surprised by the whole thing. From the road, the place definitely didn't look like much. But then again, we were in Attleboro, where a weeklong stay at the Pineapple Inn clocks in around $150. Don't ask me why I know that.
2. Exhibit B: last night at the Cantab was one of the best Cambridge nights I've had in awhile. The open mic was a stacked deck of awesome with a surprise visit from vintage heckler Eric Darby reading a persona poem involving a Yankee's fan on Sox Talk, day 2 of J W Baz's brief Hampshire-guided adventure in Massachusetts (we've nearly convinced the man to enroll), Melissa ranted about breast monsters and catcalls, DJ Muse played me on with an electronic track that made me feel like a super villian, and then there was this whopping moment where Tom Daly lumped me in with Brian and April as one of the venue's exciting voices (I promptly crawled into my scarf and/or melted into a puddle of my own blushing under the table where I remained for quite some time). Will Evans featured and blew me out of the water. Erin Jackson won a highly entertaining slam, the final pairing of which was against Sam Teitel. Oh Hampshire, look at you, making me proud. And then, we said, "Let there be IHOP!" And there were pancakes, and endless coffee, and so much shouting of stories down the line that I suggested we all play telephone. It felt like the best kind of family dinner, the kind you eat with the family you've chosen. And all 20-something of us (yes, we did break their seating limit something awful) said it was good. Cos it was.
3. I'm still waiting for my notebook to return to me via the mailroom (yes, I am forgetful enough to abandon my journal in another state), so I've been writing down things on a very long piece of paper towel, among various other places.
why yes, I do have the smallest of all handwriting; thanks for noticing
Most everything I write down is either for my retrospective, or a quote from The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which I picked up on a boring afternoon at work earlier this week on a whim and cannot put down. I read this passage last night right before the open mic and had to hug the book to my chest and not move for a solid five minutes to keep from being completely paralyzed by it.
She felt attracted by their weakness as by vertigo. She felt attracted by it because she felt weak herself. Again she began to feel jealous and again her hands shook. When Tomas noticed it, he did what he usually did: took her hands in his and tried to calm them by pressing hard. She tore them away from him.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"What do you want me to do for you?"
"I want you to be old. Ten years older. Twenty years older!"
What she meant was: I want you to be weak. As weak as I am.
It may not be as effective if you haven't read the book. The only thing I can say about that is that you should probably read the book. Lara Bozabalian has this poem called "Music Box" that references the novel, which is how I ended it grabbing it off a library shelf, and have not regretted a second of rapt reading.
1. Saw this video today around lunch time on MTVU while making myself a salad (ground turkey cooked in Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce, sliced strawberries, cheddar cheese, lettuce, bacon ranch dressing; it sounds wacky but tasted heavenly) and decided to adopt it as my new theme song since all I'm doing lately is coasting from city to city, departing and arriving whenever it feels right.
2. This tendency towards drifting has taken me from Amherst to Boston and then down to Providence over the past three days. Those three cities seem to be the triangle of home base, rotating in and out of favor at random intervals. I sat talking with Erick at Coffee Exchange for the better part of this afternoon about the triangle, making plans for art and living spaces, talking shop about poetry and sculpture, discussing the best trees we've met and so on. I've come to realize that what the triangle cities have in common are the types of people that live in them--the kinds I stay up until four in the morning talking to, ones who let me live on their couches or nest in their guest beds whenever need be. Fitz and I spent Wednesday trading stories about beloved books; my sister, her roommate Leanne, and I went to Kartabar on Thayer street for dinner last night and laughed raucously while recounting our New Year's Eves; and then today Erick and I had our afternoon of caffeine and a bunch of pizza at Nice Slice. I feel very good about this triumvirate of beloved locations. Home has turned into a state of happiness that can exist in lots of places, and that's a comfort, especially since I've been concerned about belonging somewhere specific for the past few months. Maybe I can just belong everywhere and have that be alright.
3. I am taking a mini blogging hiatus (probably two or three days-worth) in favor of organizing a few things (read: searching for a new/supplementary form of income, making a reading list, traveling to visit friends, etc.). Thanks in advance for the breathing room. I promise to return well-rested and with oxygen-induced euphoria.
1. So much for ever talking about my life in public. The retreat to solitude (or rather, life without much internet posting) of the past week is in direct proportion to how much anxiety I have over the end of the semester. However, this anxiety is apparently unwarranted--I had a peer review of my critical/creative paper on the dangers of reading Plath's poems as solely inspired by biography that went incredibly well. Everyone told me that the paper was basically finished, but for a bit more textual evidence in a single paragraph. So perhaps all of this will be properly finished, on time, and handed in without any major panic attack? Maybe??
2. This weekend was the NorthBEAST slam regional, and I am proud to say that I drove out to Manchester for both nights of competition, in spite of incredible busted-ass-broke-ness and then a pretty gnarly snowstorm. Sophia made the individual finals, which I was absolutely thrilled about. I guess that statement loses a bit of its strength though, considering I was pretty syked to see most people who were competing. I really love living in the midst of the things that I do. Even if it does mean I lose my voice roughly once a week from yelling affirmations at poets (and admonitions at unsatisfactory judges), it always seems to be worth it. For most of the weekend, the question everyone asked me was what team I was on, followed by "Wait, you're not on one? REALLY?? Well, that just beats all..." Okay, so maybe not exactly like that, but the general feeling I got from such interactions was that the world at large wants me to be on a slam team. Driving back to campus late Friday night/early Saturday morning, Charley told me that he would be disappointed in our venue if I didn't make the NPS team this year. All of these remarks have my head spinning a bit--in my own mind, I was still hiding safely in the background--but my own compass about such things is point towards an August vacation to Minnesota. We'll see what happens.
3. Tonight, Sophia features at the Emerson Poetry Project. I am very excited to finally see what they do, as I've never been to another college's poetry thingamabob. And spending free time in Boston is second only in my mind to spending free time writing. Judging by my personal writing history, that's probably why I write so very many poems where Boston figures largely. Although, judging by the catalog, I haven't written one of those in a LONG time. Maybe tonight is the night for it to reoccur.